Pistons get their man in Arizona's Stanley Johnson
Auburn Hills – Stanley Johnson sounded confident and direct when he was asked why the Pistons made the right pick when they selected him eighth in Thursday night's NBA draft, instead of more highly-touted Justise Winslow of Duke.
"Because I am the best player in the draft," he said.
It is a statement he's repeated often. Now it is time to prove it.
Johnson, 19, is a 6-foot-6 small forward who played at the University of Arizona for one season. He is a confident, bullish player. He plays without fear and carries a blue-collar mentality that will fit in well in gritty Detroit. This is a place he wanted to come to and he made that clear during his workout with the Pistons two weeks ago. He told his Arizona coach, Sean Miller, a friend of Stan Van Gundy's, that he wanted the Pistons to pick him, despite the cold winters.
"Forget about going a couple of picks higher; he wanted to get to Detroit," Van Gundy, the Pistons president and coach, said Thursday night. "He thought it was a great fit. We're really excited."
In the second round, the Pistons selected 6-6 shooting guard Darrun Hilliard of Villanova.
Detroit was not the only team excited about Johnson. Van Gundy said the phone rang most of the evening, even after the Pistons selected Johnson. Some teams offered future and current draft picks for Johnson. The Pistons even had an opportunity to trade up.
But Van Gundy landed the man he wanted.
"This guy is a winner," Van Gundy said. "He's got incredible toughness and really gets after it on the defensive end. For our fans that go back to the Bad Boys era, this is their guy."
Johnson averaged 13.8 points and 6.5 rebounds his freshman season with Arizona shot 39 percent on 3-pointers.
Johnson is an underrated shooter but Van Gundy admits he needs to work with Johnson on shooting angles so he can better get his shot off against NBA talent.
Van Gundy wanted to take pressure off his rookie and said he did not expect him to start right away. He said he picked a player that can best help the Pistons three years down the road. But Johnson has high goals and expects to start this season.
"I should be able to produce right away for the team," Johnson said via conference call from Brooklyn, site of the draft. "Coach Van Gundy wants me to compete. He wants me to be a dog, like I am. He wants me to bring the competitive energy like LeBron (James). I am ready to compete against the highest level wings in the league. I know that is expected of me and I expect big things from the team. We have all the pieces. We can't make excuses for ourselves."
This selection gives Pistons fans another draft to debate. They questioned former Pistons president Joe Dumars in 2013 for selecting Kentavious Caldwell-Pope with the eighth pick over Michigan guard Trey Burke, who is now a backup with the Utah Jazz.
But Van Gundy said the decision at No. 8 did not come down to Johnson vs. Winslow. Kentucky shooter Devin Booker was the other guy the Pistons considered.
"Justise is a very good player and a great kid and competes very hard," Van Gundy said. "The main reason people ask that question is because he is from Duke and they won a national championship. In the last game played Duke was playing and Justise Winslow was in there. There was a little bit of a bump in that. I am not going to get into anything that negates Justise. I think he is a very good player. I just think Stanley was the best player on the board at that point."
Many fans wanted Winslow and will undoubtedly make comparisons this coming season with the Duke forward who dropped to No. 10 and was selected by the Miami Heat.
Johnson was named Pac-12 freshman of the year and made first team All-Pac-12.
He loves to attack the basket and is relentless in the paint but should stay out of Andre Drummond's way. Drummond is working on inside moves to become a more productive go-to scorer.
Owner Tom Gores was in the Pistons' war room Thursday night at Auburn Hills and left impressed with his new draft pick and the way GM Jeff Bowers and Van Gundy handled the draft.
"We're trying to make a difference and Stanley has the toughness to make a difference in Detroit," Gores said. "Every time you get a player you think about his character and then you think about Detroit's character and if he will fit. That's something Stan loved about Stanley."
Most experts projected that the Pistons would have their choice of a talented group of small forwards — Mario Hezonja, Johnson and Winslow — and shooting guard Devin Booker.
But when Hezonja was picked fifth by the Magic and Willie Cauley-Stein sixth by the Kings, the Pistons were in a prime position to get one of their coveted players. Emmanuel Mudiay then went to the Nuggets at No. 7, and the Pistons were set up perfectly for Johnson.
After trading Caron Butler to Milwaukee in the Ersan Ilyasaova deal and Tayshaun Prince becoming an unrestricted free agent, the Pistons had a glaring need for a small forward — and Johnson seems to fit the bill.
Second round: The Pistons picked 6-foot-6 shooting guard Darrun Hilliard of Villanova with the No. 38 pick of the draft. He averaged 14.3 points a game his senior season with Villanova and shot 40 percent on 3-pointers. He is considered a strong spot-up shooter and solid defender. He is not afraid to make the extra pass and is a good ball-handler. Hilliard is from Bethlehem, Pa., and was first-team All-Big East as a senior.
COMPLETE FIRST ROUND
1. Timberwolves: Karl-Anthony Towns, F, Kentucky
2. L.A. Lakers: D'Angelo Russell, G, Ohio State
3. 76ers: Jahlil Okafor, C, Duke
4. Knicks: Kristaps Porzingis, F, Latvia
5. Magic: Mario Hezonja, G, Croatia
6. Kings: Willie Cauley-Stein, C, Kentucky
7. Nuggets: Emmanuel Mudiay, G, Congo
8. Pistons: Stanley Johnson, F, Arizona
9. Hornets: Frank Kaminsky, F, Wisconsin
10. Heat: Justise Winslow, F, Duke
11. Pacers: Myles Turner, C, Texas
12. Jazz: Trey Lyles, F, Kentucky
13. Suns: Devin Booker, G, Kentucky
14. Thunder: Cameron Payne, G, Murray State
15. Hawks: Kelly Oubre, F, Kansas
16. Celtics: Terry Rozier, G, Louisville
17. Bucks: Rashad Vaughn, G, UNLV
18. Rockets: Sam Dekker, F, Wisconsin
19. Wizards: Jerian Grant, G, Notre Dame
20. Raptors: Delon Wright, G, Utah
21. Mavericks: Justin Anderson, F, Virginia
22. Bulls: Bobby Portis, F, Arkansas
23. Trail Blazers: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, F, Arizona
24. Cavaliers: Tyus Jones, G, Cavaliers
25. Grizzlies: Jarell Martin, F, LSU
26. Spurs: Nikola Milutinov, C, Serbia
27. Lakers: Larry Nance Jr., F, Wyoming
28. Celtics: R.J. Hunter, G, Georgia State
29. Nets: Chris McCullough, F, Syracuse
30. Warriors: Kevon Looney, F, UCLA
* Wizards get Kelly Oubre; Hawks get Jerian Grant and two future second-round picks.
* Knicks get Jerian Grant; Hawks get Tim Hardaway Jr.
* Bucks get Greivis Vasquez; Raptors get protected first-round pick (15-30) in 2017 and Norman Powell (No. 46 pick).
* Timberwolves get Tyus Jones; Cavaliers get Cedi Osman (No. 31 pick) and Rakeem Christmer (No. 36 pick).
* Nets get Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (No. 23 pick) and Steve Blake; Trail Blazers get Pat Connaughton (No. 41 pick) and Mason Plumlee.
* Nets get Juan Vaulet (No. 39 pick); Hornets get two future second-round picks.
* Grizzlies get Andrew Harrison (No. 44 pick); Suns get Jon Leuer (No. 41 pick).